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UK: Report on Housing for Women in the Criminal Justice System

19th June 2018

The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) and Women in Prison (WiP) have published a report entitled ‘Home truths: housing for women in the criminal justice system', which presents evidence of the 'chronic shortage of suitable housing options for women leaving prison' and highlights its link to reoffending. The report also explores examples of good practice and makes recommendations for action. Key points from the report are summarised below:

  • Research suggests that people who commit offences are likely to have a volatile housing history. A lack of housing can jeopardise a person’s physical health and emotional wellbeing, as well as reducing opportunities for education, employment and participation in public life.

  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women face additional barriers in accessing accommodation on release from prison, due to issues such as racial discrimination, stigma, isolation, cultural differences and language barriers.

  • Nearly half of women entering custody do so on remand, and the majority do not go on to receive a custodial sentence. Being remanded in custody can jeopardise their accommodation through, for example, rent arrears. Furthermore, the majority of women entering prison serve short sentences of six months or less, which significantly exacerbates housing problems.

  • The lack of social, affordable housing across the UK affects the housing prospects of women leaving prison. Many vulnerable women end up in unsuitable hostels where there may be access to drugs, or low-quality emergency accommodation.

  • The complex nature of the benefits system serves as a barrier to accessing housing. For example: housing benefit claims can only be backdated for a maximum of one month; those who have lived in homeless hostels for over three months or who are receiving certain supports to help settle back into their communities are ineligible for the 'shared accommodation rate'; and the Under-Occupancy Charge can put pressure on women to get lodgers (placing them in potentially dangerous situations).

  • Women who have lost custody of their children while in prison are often assessed as single and not allocated housing suitable for a family. This "catch-22" situation makes it difficult for them to regain care of their children.

  • Women in the criminal justice system who are fleeing domestic abuse should be entitled to housing automatically, rather than having to meet any additional test of vulnerability, given that many do not have the confidence to talk about their experiences, or fear involvement from child protection agencies.

  • The cost benefit of 'getting it right' is significant. The Welsh charity Gibran (now ‘include’) worked with 460 women over 5 years across each of Wales’ 22 local authorities to help resettle women coming out of prison. The project resulted in fewer crimes being committed, fewer families disrupted, and an estimated cost saving of £44.5million.

  • Based on its findings, the report makes tailored recommendations to Government, local authorities, sentencers, prisons and probation services, housing providers and criminal justice inspectorates and regulators.

An over-arching finding of the report is that women's experiences of homelessness are often distinct from those of men. Mainstream homelessness services can be intimidating, often male-dominated environments, thus it is important to have holistic, women-only services to support women released from prison.

Read the full report here.

viewed here